Few stu­dents are for­tunate enough to have the hard work they produce in the classroom rec­og­nized outside of class — but junior Catherine Coffey and senior Jen­nifer Shadle were offi­cially acknowl­edged for their theater accom­plish­ments earlier this month when they won awards at the American College Theater Festival. 

“You can do stuff that’s great in the classroom, but nobody cares outside the classroom,” Pro­fessor of Theatre James Brandon said of the recog­nition. “The people that are judging this are pro­fes­sionals, so it really is a nice stamp to see.” 

ACTF, a national orga­ni­zation run out of the Kennedy Center, has annual com­pe­ti­tions in eight regions throughout the country. Hillsdale theatre faculty and stu­dents attend the Region 3 com­pe­tition, which was held this year from Jan. 6 – 11 in Mil­waukee, Wisconsin. 

Both Coffey’s and Shadle’s awards were in dra­maturgy. Dra­maturgs form a link from the play­wright and script to the pro­duction team. They do con­ceptual analysis, lit­erary work, and research in order to produce infor­mation such as program notes and back­ground infor­mation for the actors and director. 

According to Brandon, Coffey has good reason to be par­tic­u­larly apt at dramaturgy.

“She’s a dual major in English and theater, so she has a really strong lit­erary back­ground; she sees things the way a lit­erary scholar would see them,” he said.

Coffey won in the cat­egory Critics, Dra­maturges, & Scholars for a project she had pre­pared in Brandon’s dra­maturgy class last semester on the play “August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts. She was judged on written work she had emailed in beforehand, such as a playguide giving a biog­raphy of the play­wright, a glossary of the play’s terms, and char­acter pro­files. At the actual event, she and the other com­petitors had to set up lobby dis­plays fea­turing their work and gave a five-minute presentation. 

“I saw all these fan­tastic lobby dis­plays, and here I am putting up things with twine and clothespins,” Coffey laughed. “Lit­erally, I used a trash bag. It ended up looking like a country curio shop when I was done with it.” 

Despite her nerves, Coffey won and now has the chance to go on to the national level of the com­pe­tition in Wash­ington, D.C., in April. After each of the other eight regional com­pe­ti­tions have selected finalists, four will be chosen to con­tinue to D.C. Coffey is waiting to hear if she is one of the chosen four. 

Shadle also won an award for her work in dra­maturgy, though her cat­egory, Design Storm, does not have a national-level com­pe­tition. Shadle worked with a team of other stu­dents from other schools in Region 3 to present a concept for the play Sweeney Todd. Each member of the team had a dif­ferent role, such as director or set designer, and Shadle was the dramaturg. 

“The most fun part about Design Storm is that you’re working with other people you don’t know from other schools,” she said, adding that her team worked together mag­nif­i­cently. “I’ve never had col­lab­o­ration like that.” 

Over the span of four days her team met together to prepare for a five-minute pre­sen­tation for the judges of their work, but didn’t find out they’d won until the festival’s final awards ceremony.

“It’s always tricky because everyone’s spread out when they announce winners,” Shadle said of the moment her team realized they had won. “We all just ran like little children into the lobby of the place and we did this little group hug.”

Even if they hadn’t won recog­nition for their work, both Coffey and Shadle agree that the expe­rience of ACTF itself is rewarding. 

“I think it’s a good way to kind of pump us up for the next semester,” Shadle said. “I know that at the end of ACTF I was like, ‘Man, I’m pumped to work on Drowsy Chaperone!’”

Hillsdale can be excited too — the college gets to reap the ben­efits of having award-winning dra­maturgs work on theatre pro­duc­tions right here on campus.